Van operators will be able to choose an off-the-shelf electric van from Mercedes-Benz in summer 2011 with the new Vito E-Cell.
Production of the van has already begun and Mercedes-Benz will lease the first 100 vehicles with battery as a complete unit to customers in Berlin and Stuttgart.
However, right-hand drive versions were always part of Mercedes-Benz’s plan and the Vito will reach the UK in the second half of 2011.
Mercedes-Benz originally planned to lease its new electric van to customers in the UK because there could be a wariness of the new technology and fear for residual values risk.
However, Mercedes-Benz now says it will sell the van to customers who prefer to take that option, with an agreed back value.
The four-year lease is expected to cost about £1,300 a month (including maintenance), while the van would be expected to sell for about £50,000.
Although it seems expensive, the cost of charging would be lower than the equivelent diesel per mile, and customers could take advantage of any incentives such as discounts from charging zones for electric vehicles.
Anyone using a fleet of them will be able to monitor charge levels remotely to ensure those that are ready are found quickly, rather than having to check each vehicle individually.
For the E-Cell version, the Vito has been re-engineered to front-wheel drive to accommodate the battery under the floor.
There are restrictions to the E-Cell’s performance – it will do only 50mph flat out – but for short hops in urban environments, it seems ideal.
Low-speed acceleration is as good as the equivalent diesel Vito, and through the ESP system a ‘hill-holder’ function allows the E-Cell to wait patiently when stopped at traffic lights or a junction on an incline while your right foot switches between brake and throttle.
Heated seats will be standard – more efficient at keeping the occupants warm sooner on a cold day while the heater warms up – and the E-Cell, like other Vitos, has the finest build quality in its class with high quality materials in the cabin and a robust feel.
The Vito E-Cell is the first big electric van available ‘off the shelf’ and it feels every bit as well made as a diesel version.
For the right type of work, in the right environment, the van could make financial sense.